Housing numbers were one of the topics of interest for member of the Ashington and Blyth Local Area Council during an update on progress on the county council’s new Local Plan, which sets out where development can take place.
The core strategy, a major element of the Local Plan, was withdrawn last summer after the Conservative administration took control at County Hall. This means that the council does not expect its new plan to be in place until summer 2020.
Last month, the Government warned Northumberland that the preparation of its new plan must be speeded up by three months, with Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, adding that while he would not be intervening at this time, the possibility remained.
The Labour opposition has been very critical of the withdrawal, saying the county is now a ‘developers’ free-for-all’, but the council’s leadership has said that there were serious public concerns and doubts that the previous plan would have been approved.
At Wednesday’s meeting, Coun Grant Davey, the Labour group leader, asked: “How are you going to have growth and fulfil the political will of the administration? If we end up with seriously low housing numbers, because that’s why the core strategy was withdrawn, how do you see that fitting with the Government’s agenda?
Joan Sanderson, the council’s senior planning manager, said: “If our number in the plan resulted in economic decline, that wouldn’t get through Government, through an inspector, because the Government agenda is about having an element of growth.”
She added that various evidence base studies, including looking at growth scenarios which will inform the housing numbers, are progressing, while a recent call for sites resulted in around 600 responses that are now being assessed.
The first consultation on the new Local Plan, which is seeking views on preferred locations for housing and employment, is now under way and runs until May 2.
Although hard copies are available, it is primarily an online survey which concerned some of the councillors who pointed out that the south-east of the county has some of the highest deprivation and lowest internet usage figures, meaning it could become an easy target for housing.
Coun Davey also asked whether those areas with neighbourhood plans would be affected by the new Local Plan, but Ms Sanderson said that the council was working with those groups with plans in place to ensure the plans fit together.
By Ben O'Connell, Local Democracy Reporting Service